I get asked all the time if someone trying to break into the world of bartending needs to attend bartending school. The real question should be, “How bad do you want to be a bartender?”

There are definite advantages in doing so, and it may be in your best interest to take that leap and acquire as many bartending skills as you possibly can in order to get that first job. It can’t hurt.

So, Do I Really Need to Go to Bartending School?

The short answer is yes – if you’re serious about getting a bartending job as soon as possible. Bartending school will teach you many of the core skills required to become a great bartender and provide you with a nice head start.

There are many in the food and beverage industry that disagree with this, but I’m going to explain why it’s always an advantage to acquire as much education and skills as possible – and Bartending School helps provide these skills.

Combining bartending school with online videos and practice is, in my opinion, a no-brainer. And, actually going out into the real real and observing working bartenders will give you a really good idea of what’s going on.

Let me be perfectly clear here. You do not need a “license” to be a bartender. You do not need a “certificate” from a bartending school to be a bartender. You do not need to complete any sort of bartending school to become a bartender.

The exception, in some states, is that you may need to have some sort of “alcohol awareness” training or a “food handler’s” card.

Invest in your future. Yes, it’s true that many places really don’t care if you’ve been to bartending school. Most of all, they’re looking for experience. Especially in nightclubs, sports bars, and, generally speaking, any bar that does high volume liquor sales.

But don’t allow this to deter you. Learn as much as you can, practice your pouring skills, and you’ll do just fine. Replace bartending experience with your experience in other fields – jobs that you have already had.

Try looking at bartending school in a different way. It’s not the secret to getting that first job. It is, however, a great way to learn basic skills and familiarize yourself with everything related to bartending.

A nice tip here: When applying for that first job, and the interviewer asks you why you went to a bartending school, simply tell him or her that you know that bartending experience counts a lot, but you took the class to further your skills – and that you wanted to do everything you possibly could to prepare you for your new career.

Once you make that decision to further your education, take your time browsing online for credible bartending schools. Should I take the class online – or physically attend a school in my area? How much do I have to spend?

These are valid questions, and I’m going to help you make that decision. Once again, just to be clear, obtaining a bartending certificate is not required to get a bartending job.

The Benefits of Bartending School

There are many benefits to obtaining a Bartending Certificate from a reputable school – whether it’s an online class or your are attending in person.  Among them:

  • They Teach Core Bartending Skills
  • Some Bar Managers and Owners Believe it’s a Plus
  • You’ll Learn Basic Drink Recipes
  • Familiarization with Bar Set-Up
  • Interview and Resume Techniques (Maybe)
  • Investing in Your Future
  • You’ll Learn the Federal and Local Laws
  • Getting some experience even behind a “fake” bar might help relieve anxiety

Bartending Schools teach you the core skills. If I were to go on YouTube right now, I could find a fair amount of videos on “how to pour drinks” or “liquor pouring tips.”  Actually, there are some pretty good videos out there for you to view and then practice.

There is nothing wrong with this, but there’s no substitute for actually getting a real bottle of liquor, emptied and filled with water, of course, and practicing your pouring technique. A good bartending school will teach you basic pouring skills – provided they have qualified teachers.

You don’t know the background of the person interviewing you. There are many bar owners and managers out there who DID go to bartending school. It may work to your advantage. The 7 Skills and Qualities Bar Managers Are Looking For will help you understand what Bar Mangers are really looking for.

Although they’re always going to be looking for some good experience, many establishments prefer to hire within or train their bartenders from scratch. This is common, and it certainly doesn’t hurt if you do have that certificate.

Do I Really Need to Go to Bartending School?

There’s no getting around it – you must have a basic knowledge of cocktail recipes. Don’t be discouraged, as you really don’t need to know 100’s of recipes when you’re first starting off.

A good bartending school will give you a nice list to memorize and get you started on the right track. Hopefully, they won’t require you to memorize drink recipes that you’ll never make.

The bar set-up is very important. Even though every bar has it’s own design, it’s good to get the basics down. Bars are designed to be as efficient as possible in order to leave more room for their customers.

Learning how to operate in tight quarters is essential training, and a good bartending school will have a generic bar set-up to practice your skills.

Getting your first bartending job is probably priority #1. Some bartending schools will help you with this by providing resume templates and helpful instructions on the interview process.

All of this is helpful, especially for that person with no food and beverage experience, but it’s always going to be up to you to get out there and apply for those jobs.

There are some fairly strict laws when it comes to dispensing alcohol. Bartenders need to be aware of these laws in order to stay out of trouble. Especially the Dram Shop Rules.

Pay particular attention to this part of the Bartending Course, and do some research online for specifics. Personally, I have seen many bartenders get fired for violating federal and state laws. Don’t let this happen to you.

Drawbacks of Bartending School

Getting your bartending school certificate is great, but, again, do I really need that certificate? I don’t believe that there are any disadvantages to attending bartending school – but there can be some drawbacks:

  • Modest Cost
  • Negative Reputations of Bartending Schools
  • Time Constraints
  • Poor Training
  • High Expectations

Bartending school costs money. There are many online bartending schools that you can attend for around $50.00. Some may cost up to a couple of hundred dollars.

Bartending schools with physical locations will cost more than that and will take more time. When asked, I always recommend taking an Online Bartending School class. More on that later.

Many bartending schools have horrible reputations. I suspect that it’s mostly because they “guarantee your first job” and offer “job placement” services. Some do offer the job placement help, but no one can guarantee you’ll get a job. Ignore this part of their sales approach and concentrate on the basics.

Bartending school takes time – but not as much as you think. Most “in-person” schools are about 2 weeks, and you’ll have to find the time in your busy schedule.

Online classes can be pretty much completed on your own schedule, but they may have some restrictions. Either way, be prepared to devote the appropriate amount of time for your studies.

There are some bartending schools that simply do not provide the best training. Many of their instructors have minimal experience, and cannot answer the tough questions on law, efficiency, bar operations, and more.

You must perform your due diligence before signing up for any bartending school. For “In-Person” Bartending Schools, do some thorough research on bartending schools near you and make some calls. Ask them what kind of experience their trainers have.

Attending and completing bartending school is a great feeling. You’re armed with new knowledge and confidence, and ready to go out and get that job.

Getting that first job is not that easy, but Bartending School lightens the load. You must have a plan because there are no guarantees – no matter what your bartending school instructor told you.

Perseverance, timing, and appearance is what it’s all about. I wrote a great article on getting that first bartending job in a different post. Check it out.

Different Types of Bartending Schools

Should I take an online class – or physically attend bartending school? The decision is yours, but I would recommend taking an online course. It’s less expensive, and there are some really good instructors – like me.

Going in person does have its advantages, though. If you’re the type of person that needs up close and personal instruction – go for it.

The bottom line is, the person interviewing you for your first bartending job may or may not ask you whether you took the class online or in person. They may not even notice it on your resume.

If you have advanced to the interview stage, they probably have no problem hiring inexperienced bartenders and will train them in their own way.

How Long is Bartending School?

The short answer is 2 weeks. Of course, it depends upon whether or not you’re attending the school online or in person. You may not have time to attend full-time, so that may add some additional time to the process.

And, if you’re attending online, you can pretty much learn at your own pace. Either way, set some time aside, commit to the process, and move forward.

If you attend bartending school, watch online videos, and actually go into bars and watch how bartenders work – you’re going to have a huge advantage over those applying for the same bartending position.

Again, invest your time wisely and learn all you can about the food and beverage industry. Every little bit helps as bar managers just might ask you basic questions about the industry.

Bartending Certification

Notice I said certification – not licensing. There really is no such thing as a bartender license. Many people become confused about this issue, so let’s clear this up right now.

Some states require bartenders, and food servers, to obtain a food handler’s card or something similar. Other states require training in the dispensing of alcohol: checking ID’s, over-serving, etc. Basically, some sort of “alcohol awareness” training. This is all good, but it’s not licensing.

One of the things that got bartending schools in trouble was that they were stating in their marketing materials that you needed to be licensed. Then, they would state somewhere that they were “accredited.”

There really is no accreditation, other than maybe the Better Business Bureau, so don’t be fooled. In fact, I wrote another article about how bartending schools lie to you – check it out.

Bartending School Final Thoughts

Go to bartending school if you have the time and cash.  Increase your bartending skills in whatever way you can. The food and beverage industry is no different than any other industry – they generally want some experience, but will hire the “right person.”

Those in the hiring position are looking for well-qualified, professional people to fill those job openings. Attending Bartending School may just be the skill that gets you the job!

Even if you have no actual experience behind the bar, make it known to the person interviewing you that you’re a self-starter, and have taken the necessary steps to prepare yourself for your new position.

Related Bartending Topics

How do you become a bartender with no experience? Persistence. Have a well-thought-out plan when applying for jobs. Never give up, as that next interview may be the one.

Go to a qualified Bartending School. Observe working bartenders and ask questions. Most of all, remember that it’s a numbers game – the more places you apply at, the better chance you have of landing that bartending job!

Is bartending a hard job? No. It may seem hard when you first start out, but, like any other job, it’ll get easier with experience. For those who have a genuine desire to provide great customer service – the job is easy.

Continue learning drink recipes, observe how your peers conduct themselves behind the bar, and you’ll do just fine. And, ALWAYS follow the Bar Owner’s house policy.